The Judge: Honesty and Anticipation

The Judge

Tis no secret among those that know me – I love movies. I always have had, and always will have, a soft spot in my heart, mind, and soul for a well written and well acted performance. 

I have been looking forward to The Judge for quite a long time. After reviving his acting career as the (in)famous Tony “Iron Man” Stark, Robert Downey, Jr. was given a second chance – a chance to prove the potential everyone knew he had before his personal demons ruled his life. He has vanquished those demons, and realized the potential he showed as a younger man. The Judge is proof positive of this.

The Judge is not a courtroom drama – though it has courtroom drama. The Judge is not a love story – though it has one of those as well. The Judge is, at its heart, the story of a boy and his father.  Interestingly enough, it is a coming of age story for a man already grown.

I would describe the theme of The Judge to be one of reconciliation; a story of “tough” love; a story of compassion. The Judge will sway you, and hopefully make you think. It will make you feel. The movie is long at over two hours, and some might feel it is slow paced – it’s not an action movie. This is a character study – this is the story of a man and his father. While these things are true, there is suspense, and not just of the courtroom variety. 

I often find myself saying about movies that I would recommend them to my friends, and I worry that I over say this at times. Even so, I recommend you see this movie.

If you are a person who dislikes knowing what is going to happen in a movie, I’d like to caution you now. If you proceed below the following trailer, you’ll learn more about the movie than you might have preferred (though you will need to continue to understand the title of this article).

You’re still here. That’s good. The theme of reconciliation in The Judge is pervasive. I mentioned earlier that this movie has suspense. I’d like to elaborate on that, and on the the theme of reconciliation, if you’ll indulge me a bit.

Judge Palmer (played by Robert Duvall)  is an old fashioned father. He loves his sons, and makes decisions that he feels are in their best interest. And like most sons, Hank (played by Downey) doesn’t understand this. Even as a grown man with his own child, he can’t comprehend his father or his family’s dynamics. He truly does not know what he did to be treated so roughly by his father. He does learn, however, why is treated this way.

Reconciliation can be a hard thing – and I don’t mean just reconciling when you have a difference of opinion with someone. Reconciliation can also mean making two disparate ideas within yourself make sense. It can mean internal conflict.

Judge Palmer wasn’t always a man who believed in tough love. When he meets his granddaughter, you can see that right way ( and Hank’s honest reactions of disbelief are comical as a result – after all, the things that make us laugh best are themselves best when grounded in reality). 

I have a degree in theatre arts; I spent my childhood from the age of 13 until I graduated college in the theatre. I can be extremely moved by a powerful performance. I am not an expert actor, but my life spent studying acting has taught me recognize talent in others. If you want to strip acting down to two concepts, they are 1) honesty and 2) failure to anticipate.

The best actors are honest and true in the creation of the characters they portray. This doesn’t mean that the characters never lie – honesty is the quality of the actor not the character. In The Judge, Downey is honest in that he understands and channels the emotions and experiences of Hank to a degree that you believe he feels the emotions, and lived the experiences. 

Failure to anticipate: this is the Achilles heel of most actors. They anticipate what is going to happen next. While it is true that we often have expectations of what is to happen, anticipating the response because you know what is happening next in the script is hard to avoid. The best actors, like Downey, have this skill down pat. 

I don’t want to give too much away of the plot, despite my warnings earlier, so I won’t reveal the ending of the movie – I would hate for you to have your own “unhonest” experience because you “anticipate” the end of this rather phenomenal movie. Instead I will leave you with this thought:

No matter your relationship with your parents, no matter if they were the best or the worst at their job, no matter if they made mistakes, give them a hug and tell them that you love them.

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